UT Health at UT Dentistry San Antonio.
UT Health San Antonio launched YOUnite Research in June to boost interest in clinical research trials. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

An awareness campaign UT Health San Antonio created to educate the public and encourage them to explore clinical research trials at the medical school has led to a 20 percent increase in interested participants since it launched in June, the school’s vice president for research said. 

The initiative, called YOUnite Research, creates a pipeline for awareness about future studies and helps connect volunteers to its more than 250 active clinical research trials including those looking into treatments for depression, Parkinson’s disease, epileptic seizures, and spinal cord injury.

“The issue with clinical trials is that the majority of them [cannot be completed] because of lack of participation,” said Andrea Giuffrida, professor in the Department of Pharmacology and vice president for research. “This is a trend we see nationwide. It doesn’t affect San Antonio alone.”

On the YOUnite Research find-a-study website, users can click through categories, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, and learn more about individual studies, ask questions, or add themselves to a registry that takes health and demographic information and matches them with current or future trials.

The website expands clinical trial recruitment beyond clinics where patients are already receiving care, said Joseph Schmelz, assistant vice president for research administration at UT Health. 

Giuffrida said the medical school has seen a 20 percent increase in people interested in clinical trials since the June launch. The school hopes to maintain a 16 to 20 percent increase in interest but is not looking to achieve a specific enrollment number. 

“With this initiative we are really trying to get people to understand how fundamental their contribution is to furthering science and medicine for those who need it most,” Giuffrida said. “We aren’t just enrolling sick individuals or people with health concerns. We also need healthy volunteers from all backgrounds to participate so we can compare trial results.”

UT Health San Antonio comprises five schools and several research centers and institutes whose work including the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, and the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

So far in 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-led National Institutes of Health awarded UT Health San Antonio more than $62 million for training and research programs, which is just a fraction of funding for clinical trials the medical school completes, Schmelz said. Other schools on the UT Health San Antonio campus, including the School of Dentistry and School of Nursing at UT Health San Antonio, also have ongoing clinical trials. 

Giuffrida said clinical research trials at UT Health San Antonio are one of the “main pillars” of the medical school’s research mission, because they are “a way to translate ideas from the research lab into the health care system” and help efforts toward precision medicine, where medications and treatments are tailored to an individual or specific demographics to be more effective.

“One of the advantages of running clinical trials in San Antonio is that we have a high percentage of people of Hispanic origin, meaning we represent the ideal type of clinical trial for the future,” Giuffrida said. “We have the demographics that the entire U.S. will have plenty of in 50 years,” and right now research on medication and treatment is historically centered around white males.

The YOUnite Research initiative isn’t the first time UT Health has looked outside of its offices and clinics to get people to enroll in studies. Giuffrida said the medical school has participated in outreach efforts in more rural southern areas in Texas that included a mobile van that provided basic health care and informed people of research opportunities they likely would have never heard about.

“We want to increase the number of clinical trials for the mission of the university and because they help speed up the process of getting more effective treatments into the market,” Giuffrida said.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.